Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ghana Slums Being Cleared Out Before Cup of Nations

Back from the holidays with some grim news from our friends in Ghana.

As the nation prepares for the 2008 Cup of Nations, it seems the Ghanaian government doesn't want the visiting supporters and journalists to see the horrible poverty in their cities.

Their answer to getting rid of the poverty? Bulldoze it away. And if that doesn't work, use a flamethrower.

People's homes, however small and insignificant they may be to the Ghanaian government, are being destroyed. And for what? To look good in visitor's eyes? This isn't right.

Here, an article in Sunday's London Times by Dan McDougall in Kumasi, Ghana detailing the horror.

Have a go at it here or at the link above. As the article says, 'An African Cup of Nations spokesman said that the government was determined to clean up Ghana for the tournament. “There is a need to beautify the country to make it attractive,” he said. “All hands must be on deck in order to achieve this goal.”

But as one article commentator said online, 'Why do we treat fellow human beings this way? Is football so important to the extent that people will lose their livelihood without a blink of an eye from officialdom?'

Interesting question. Seems to me the question's already been answered.

THE sound of bulldozers tearing down his neighbours’ homes abruptly woke Ibrahim Addalah, a schoolteacher, just after dawn broke. Behind the earth-movers marched a platoon of 200 policemen and soldiers, brandishing flame-throwers and machine-guns, ordering residents to leave their homes immediately.

They had come to clear his house, a corrugated iron shack in a shanty town he shared with 15,000 migrant workers, just outside a new football stadium that will host matches in the African Cup of Nations next month.

The teeming slum was being swept away to spare fans and visiting stars, including Premier League players such as Didier Drogba of Chelsea and Kolo Tour� of Arsenal, the sight of grinding poverty on their way to the giant Baba Yara stadium.

“The bulldozers got bogged down in the mud and there were so many houses they couldn’t reach them all, so the military set fire to the whole slum,” Addalah said last week.

“My school is gone. The community had bought us a blackboard; we had made a small school. It took us a long time to get all those things: the benches, the books. They gave us no time to leave; they just burnt our homes and our future to the ground. Now we are living in the rubble with nowhere to go.”

Addalah is among 5,000 slum-dwellers left behind in the Zongo district of Kumasi, sheltering from the rain under blue plastic sheets and binbags and eking out a pitiful existence in the remains of their homes in Ghana’s second city.

Built in the late 1970s, Zongo was meant to be a temporary resettlement camp, but like most African shanty towns it grew into something more – a vibrant community with a school, a church, half a dozen mosques and thousands of homes made of brick, thatch and asbestos.

The slum-dwellers claimed the police gave them no warning of their raid. “No one had time to collect their things. The police beat them with canes,” said Shefawu Awadu, 34, a mother of three. “I tried to grab what I could but the soldiers caned me to stop me getting into my house. I’m left with nothing.”

Zongo’s residents say their slum was cleared because of antiMuslim prejudice. A huge number of impoverished northerners, mainly Muslims, have been drawn south in search of jobs. The tournament, they claim, offered the local authorities an excuse to clear them out.

Government officials believe the tournament will bring a financial windfall. One in three of the country’s residents scrapes by on less than 50p a day; most players will stay in Accra’s five-star African Regent hotel, with suites starting at £400 a night.

An African Cup of Nations spokesman said that the government was determined to clean up Ghana for the tournament. “There is a need to beautify the country to make it attractive,” he said. “All hands must be on deck in order to achieve this goal.”

Meanwhile, Addalah watches his former pupils playing among piles of bricks, corrugated iron and shards of broken glass. In the distance a 20ft-high poster of the Chelsea star Michael Essien announces the impending arrival of some of the world’s wealthiest black footballers.

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